Friday 16 October 2009

WHO's war on alcohol

Cresswell points to this from the New Scientist.
Sally Casswell of Massey University in Auckland, New Zealand, who helped produce the WHO document, says a focus on passive drinking is key to winning public acceptance for more stringent alcohol legislation. "It challenges the neoliberal ideology which promotes the drinker's freedom to choose his or her own behaviour," she says.

Persuading governments and citizens of the problem is just the first step, though. What, if anything, can be done to stop people drinking to excess?
Anderson is still optimistic, though. "I don't think alcohol will ever become as socially unacceptable as tobacco use, but societies may adopt a more cautious approach to its supply and marketing, resulting in less harm."
Folks advocating using WHO methods on alcohol ought to know that the WHO is far from a neutral impartial agency. The Casswell quote is telling. They need to challenge the ideology that individuals can choose their own behaviours. If you click through to the WHO's draft document, you find
  • At page 6 they list raising global awareness of the magnitude of public health problems as the first objective in their 5 point plan -- that's the Single, Easton, Collins, Lapsley et al cost only method for producing an inflated estimate of the social costs of alcohol: highly productive as agitprop, totally useless for rational policy

  • Their guiding principles include (p.7)
    • Public policies and interventions to prevent and reduce alcohol-related harm should be based on clear public health goals, and be formulated by public health entities [ie based on healthism with no consideration of benefits of drinking for moderate drinkers]
    • A precautionary approach that gives priority to public health should be applied in the face of uncertainty or competing interests. [more healthism]
  • Recommendation for "public health-oriented government monopoly of retail sales"
  • Regulating days and hours of retail sales [days?!]
  • regulating modes of retail sales of alcohol (e.g. on credit) [They don't want you to be able to use your credit card at the bar]
  • partial or full ban on sales and consumption, according to cultural norms [ie if you can get away with it, implement prohibition. In the meantime, produce enough shonky cost-only reports to sway public opinion towards prohibition]
  • addressing informal or illicit production, sale and distribution of alcohol [so no more home brewing to get around their regs]
  • Advice for member states on getting around world trade treaties in order to facilitate prohibition at home (or at least that's the most plausible reading of this one
    WHO can contribute support to Member States by: facilitating regional and global efforts to examine and, if needed, mitigate the impact that provisions for free movement of goods and services as well as increased travel might have on harmful use of alcohol and which can support and strengthen governments’ ability to regulate the availability of alcohol at the national level; developing and sharing expertise in constructing and operating effective national systems of controlling the alcohol
  • restricting or banning direct or indirect marketing of alcohol in certain or all media, same for sponsorship activities
  • regulating new forms of marketing [can a brewery have a website?]
And that's just the first 16 pages of a 27 page document.

The WHO is pushing a neoprohibitionist agenda. When the healthists in your country say that they're only following the sound recommendations of the impartial WHO, watch out.

Update: Velvet Glove comments, as does Dick Puddlecote

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